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Chicago's Best Dive Bars

By Staff in Food on Jan 16, 2013 4:00PM

Chicago magazine released its list of the top 100 bars in the city in its most recent issue. On that list was its top dive bars in the city and, looking at it, we realized most of the taverns that made the list weren't really dives at all.

While working on our list of the best dive bars in Chicago, the Chicagoist staff quickly discovered we had different definitions for what made a bar a dive. We also realized we had so many suggestions for the list we could have broken this into installments.

So we decided to whittle this down to bars we could agree on by consensus. It's by no means definitive and we're certain some of you will chime in with "you forgot (name your bar)." You want to include your favorite dive? Make your own list. With that, here we go.

Chicagoist/Samantha Abernethy

I have been to a lot of dive bars over the past ten years in Chicago and I find that many of them are unwilling to go the whole nine yards to supreme diveyness. Sure, they have kitsch and paneling and cheap domestic bottles (or cans) down, but they're not bar enough to take that last crucial step. I find that only one such spot has embraced the true meaning of the designation: the dankness; the stale-beer-and-vomit stench that could be the garbage in the next-door alley but isn't; the third shifters making the most of it at 8 a.m. and the oft-obnoxious creative types from the ad agency down the block. That glorious hole, friends, is Rossi's. —Lizz Kannenberg
Rossi's is at 412 N. State Street; 312-644-5775

Longtime South Loop standby Cal's closed New Year's Eve but folks looking for a cheap drink, a jukebox whose selections haven't been changed in years and one last nip to go at last call only need to head a few blocks east to George's Cocktail Lounge. Located across the street from buddy Guy's Legends, this bar is popular with Columbia College students, neighborhood winos with some change to spend and newer South Loop residents looking for a final drink before sunrise and no shame as to where to find it. Pull up a seat next to a bar that's seen better days, enjoy some of the cheapest drinks downtown and waste hours people watching. —Chuck Sudo
George's Cocktail Lounge is at 646 S. Wabash Avenue; 312-427-3964

Second Story Bar (Photo credit: Chicagoist/Tony Peregrin)

My vote is for Second Story. What a dive, but I love this place. It's located above Sayat Nova and next to a cheesy fortune teller's lair, a stone's throw away from the Gap on Michigan Ave and all the annoying hustle and bustle of shoppy-boppy tourists. So, it's like this hidden oasis that you kind of have to be in the know about, or you'd swan right by it. It's dark, very dark inside. Cozy. Cocktails are cheap (cash only though, kids) and on slow nights the bartender will even order in food for you, if you want. I love that there is a video monitor so you can see who is coming into the bar as the entrance is this super-long, sort of intimidating
stairway. —Tony Peregrin
Second Story is at 157 E. Ohio Street; 312-923-9536

You can see Mickey's from the southbound Kennedy Expressway on-ramp at Fullerton, but it's near impossible to find if you're looking for it on the neighborhood streets. This hidden Bucktown bar is another wood paneled gem, and it's primarily populated by really old men who seem to have nowhere else to go; a dive bar must-have! The staff is super welcoming, and they’ll even feed you if you get there early enough on a Bears Sunday (or warm up what’s left if you come in late). —Michelle Meywes
Mickey's is at 2345 N. Leavitt Avenue; 773-394-3037

We don't go to Ed & Jean's all that often, probably because you never know whether they'll be open or not! The bar is literally the back room/downstairs of Ed & Jean's home, and with the wood paneled walls and beer promotion knickknacks (that look like they haven't been touched in 20+ years), you'll feel like you're hanging out in your weird uncle's rec-room. There's even a pool table crammed in this tiny dive. —Michelle Meywes
Ed & Jean's is at 2032 W. Armitage; 773-227-9212

How does one explain St. Pauli Bar? I'll start by saying I have never walked through its doors sober, and I've rarely remembered walking out at all. My recollections of this bar are that if it appears to be closed, you should just knock and they'll open up for you, but it better be after 10 p.m. If you encounter the bar with older locals already in place, fill the jukebox with money and judiciously sprinkle old time German classics with your favorite '60s and '70s jams, you'll quickly make friends and perhaps be asked to participate in an oompah-inspired dance party/singalong. As with any good dive, this is not the place to get fancy. Bottled beers and glasses of liquor with or without ice are your best bets. This gem of a bar has a 4 a.m. license, so I suggest getting there before 2 a.m., lay low, and watch the riff-raff roll in. Extra points for a not-so-wobbly pool table and mirrored walls. —Lorna Juett
St. Pauli Bar is at 5109 N. Lincoln Avenue; 773-769-1922

The Chipp Inn is one of those great corner bars in Chicago. With a
speakeasy history, photos and other evidence of their legacy are on proud display in the back room that hosts a pool table with felt like a putting green at Augusta, with nuanced bumps and leans. Go there for the $2 Hamms cans, stay for the people watching and, if you're lucky, the tamale guy and some karaoke. —Lorna Juett
The Chipp Inn is at 832 North Greenview Avenue; 312-421-9052

Rose's Lounge has resisted change even as Lincoln Park has transformed from a gritty North side neighborhood to a suburb within the city. The bar is unapologetically formica. The couches in the corners still leak trapped cigarette smoke—reminders of when even non-smokers left bars reeking of a three-pack a day habit. And playing your favorite songs on their jukebox is a risky proposition. But we love the place. —Chuck Sudo
Rose's Lounge is at 2656 N. Lincoln Avenue; 773-327-4000

L&L Tavern is another tavern that has maintained its barfly vibe as the neighborhood around it has transformed over the decades. The jukebox is free, $2 cans of PBR Light can be had and Kenny the bartender makes everyone feel welcome, regardless of the time of day. L&L also has a role in part of Chicago's—and the Midwest's—seedier history: It's believed that serial killers John Wayne Gacy and Jeffrey Dahmer frequented the L&L on occasion. Gacy was rumored to have shown up once in full clown makeup and costume. —Chuck Sudo
L&L Tavern is at 3207 N. Clark Street; 773-528-1303